It is the routine that does it. The mind numbing, all consuming routine of daily life that’ s what does it. As comforting as routine can be, as reassuring and calming as routine can be, it can also make us forget, forget how amazingly blessed we really are.
Think about it. We wake up in the morning and before our feet hit the floor the schedule kicks in – make the coffee, feed the dog, make breakfast for the kids, check the emails, check the calendar, plan for the day. Before we know it we are off and running. It’ s Monday time for staff meeting. It’ s Tuesday the kids have soccer. It’ s the 15 th I’ ve got to remember to pay bills. The cleaning is ready, my report is due, who’ s making dinner, time to grocery shop. Our lives are so full of repetitive activities, the activities that make our lives work, the daily responsibilities we all have, the daily tasks that consume much of our thinking and most of our time. It is so easy to get so caught up in these events that they become the heart of life rather than the details that surround the heart of life. Traffic is slower than usual, we are late for a meeting and because our routine is so important, because our schedules are so blinding, this little inconvenience changes how we feel about our day. How often have I found myself in a bad mood because my routine has gotten out of whack? How often have I let something that is in fact trivial hold an importance in my life that it does not deserve?
Many of us are planners, list makers; we like to schedule life because it gives us a sense of control. I am a person like that. I like to know on Monday what I am doing on Friday. I make long to do lists and it feels so great when I finish something and I can mark it off done, finished, completed. But as I critique myself this Thanksgiving I have to be honest and ask how often do I allow those lists, those schedules, an inappropriate amount of power in my life? How often do I get too frustrated when the routine I have set for myself doesn’ t work out as I have planned? How often do I allow the day-to-day trivialities of life to become bigger than they are? How often do I allow them to numb me to what is really going on, to blind me to the larger truth about my life?
On of the reasons I love mission trips, one of the reasons I think everyone should be a part of a mission trip, is because not only do these trips benefit others but they benefit us just as much. They pull us away from our daily routines and give us a larger view of life. As I share a meal with a poor Honduran father who struggles day to day just to feed and clothe his family I am immediately and humbly made aware of the fact that as big as the issues in my life may seem I actually have nothing at all to complain about. As I watch a Honduran priest who smiles as he loves and cares for his people in the midst of immense poverty and despair, I am embarrassed that I sometimes whine so much about so little. Life is so grand and yet sometimes we make it so small.
Today is the day when we are supposed to take a break from the daily grind and give thanks to God for the blessings in our lives. We gather with family and friends to say thank you, to remind ourselves of the larger picture. It makes me think of a story Rabbi Harold Kushner told in his recent book, The Lord is My Shepherd. He told how a group of tourists on safari in Africa hired a number of native porters to carry all their supplies. After they’ d walked for three days, the porters told the tourists they would have to stop and rest a day. We aren’ t tired, the porters explained, we have simply walked too far too fast and now we must wait for our souls to catch up to us. Thanksgiving is the time when we stop for a day to allow our blessings to catch up. We travel so far and so fast in our lives that we need a moment to put away the routine, to stop what we are doing, to look around at all we have and say thank you God, thank you for everything.
But what about tomorrow? We are here today but what about tomorrow? Will we just fall back into the same old habits? Does the schedule and the calendar, the to do list take over once again? I hope not, not again, not this year. Because as Christians if it is important to us to be faithful then it must be important to us to be grateful as well – grateful all the time, grateful in big things and in small, grateful when life is going our way and grateful even when it isn’ t. All of us have received such a precious gift. We have hearts that beat, hands that move and minds that think. Giving thanks to God for the blessings of this life should be the first thing on our calendar every day and at the top of our to do lists. And the only thing on our minds when our feet hit the floor each morning should be a prayer of gratitude because we have been given another day and everything else pales by comparison.
In a little while we will come forward to take part in the Eucharist, a word that literally means thanksgiving. In breaking the bread and sharing the cup we will give thanks to God for the life of Christ. When we gather for the Eucharist, for this holy thanksgiving we toast the whole of our Lord’ s life, the defeats along with the victories, his gentle birth along with his violent death, the sadness of the crucifixion along with the joy of the empty tomb. All of it is a blessing to us and in the Eucharist we say thanks be to God for all of it. Our challenge this Thanksgiving morning and every other day of the year is to see our own lives the same way. Our challenge is to learn how to give thanks for the mixed blessings of our own lives to say thank you for the whole mess, the things we welcome as well as the things we wished had never happened.1 Because it is all a gift both the height, the depth and everything in between. It is all a gift.
Thanks be to God who gives us this life. Thanks be to God who gives us hands to serve and hearts to love. Thanks be to God for yesterday, today and tomorrow. May we all have the grace to live gratefully not just today but every day of the year. Amen.
1 The Rev. Herman Hollerith IV, 1996.